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WFP: MERET - Restoring Hope for Small Holder Farmers in Ethiopia (HNCJ)

For many small holder farmers in Ethiopia, it is a constant struggle to feed a growing family on land that is subject to recurrent droughts and soil erosion. Erratic rainfall and environmental degradation are the daily reality for many of these farmers. But there are ways in which these struggles can be lessened and over time, removed altogether.

Abebe Moliso, a farmer living in a small village near the southern Ethiopian town of Awassa, still remembers the days before he was introduced to a joint conservation and water harvesting project known as MERET.  MERET, or Managing Environmental Resources to Enable Transitions to more sustainable livelihoods programme, is supported by the Ethiopian government and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

"Before MERET, my land was very weak," Abebe says. "It was too rocky and I had trouble growing." 

With his wife, Tsehaynesh Desalegn, and eight children to feed, coaxing and nurturing a healthy harvest from the soils around his home is not so much a vocation, but a matter of survival for Abebe.

"Before MERET, my land was very weak. It was too rocky and I had trouble growing."

Land degradation is one of the major causes of food insecurity in Ethiopia. The effects are being felt by over 80 per cent of the population and in some regions, such as Tigray, up to 50 per cent of the productive capacity of the soil has been lost. Climate change puts people who are already already vulnerable to food shortages at even greater risk of hunger and food insecurity.

WFP has been working with the Ethiopian government and international donors to support the MERET programme's rehabilitation of more than 400,000 hectares of degraded land, or land which is no longer able to produce as many crops because of a reduction in the nutrients of the soil. Families who have participated in the programme recognise the benefits, seeing an increase in incomes, harvests and water availability, and a reduction in soil erosion.

MERET incorporates traditional knowledge about farming practices and ensures that communities are placed at the heart of programmes to improve the quality of land and strengthen food security. Training courses are provided for farmers, like Abebe Moliso, that teach conservation techniques and introduce them to new and more diverse crop varieties such as pigeon peas, onions and carrots, as well as fruit trees such as pawpaw, lime, avocado and mango.

MERET has delivered a 20 per cent reduction in poverty rates and food security has improved with households consuming more diverse diets that are higher in vital nutrients. 

Abebe has now introduced drought resistant crops such as cassava and has terraced his land to prevent soil erosion.  Since he has adopted this new strategy, he is enjoying the fruits of his labour and is especially proud of his avocado tree which has been producing a crop that he sells for cash at local markets.

MERET has delivered a 20 per cent reduction in poverty rates and food security has improved with households consuming more diverse diets that are higher in vital nutrients. For communities living on the frontlines of climate change, MERET is a welcome buffer that protects and nourishes the lives of the most vulnerable.

What is Food Security?

“Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs, and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

- World Food Summit, 1996.